The Autumn of COVID Is the True Test for Your CRM
By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited
The tumultuous period during and in the immediate aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns saw the rise of contactless technologies to meet the new mandate for viral safety as well as the search for staycation or drive-to customers using a myriad of digital channel strategies. Now that we are approaching the end of peak season summer travel, and much of the 'revenge travel' cohort have come and gone, it is time to look ahead for how to keep the lights on throughout the often-slower autumn months.
For starters, your CRM simply must be integrated with as many touchpoints in the hotel tech stack as possible - the more links it has, the more insights you have, especially because traveler behavior is quite unique during these strange times. A fortuitous side effect of COVID, though, has been that all the investments in touchless technologies have now allowed hotels to digitalize supplementary or granular guest behaviors and preferences that were previously handled in-person by your staff.
For instance, a robust hospitality CRM should have enough multi-channel flexibility to incorporate all the various questions asked and requests put through on a guest messaging app as well as note all the types of transactions processed via contactless payment gateways. What people are buying, what they are asking about (especially nowadays with regard to new sanitization and physical distancing measures) and what additional services they are demanding can all be used to formulate enticing fall packages beyond geographic and demographic targeting.
What are the top five questions asked by guests before they arrive? Similarly, what are the top five posed once those customers are onsite? What are the top five on-property requests? By having this kind of data at your disposal, perhaps you can anticipate these service needs in advance of any inquiries to augment the hotel experience.
Where I see your CRM truly coming to the rescue this autumn is in maximizing return visits from leisure guests. This is particularly important if we are heading into a widespread second wave or another stock market crash which may both scare off a lot of new vacationers who are unfamiliar with your brand as well as further shorten the average look-to-book (L2B) window.
Suppose you want to run a promotion aimed at your loyalty base, to run from early October through to the holiday season. Knowing that this is an off-peak period and that COVID is still heavily influencing travel purchasing decisions, an easy assumption is that most of your customers will come from nearby, rubber tire territories and that the L2B ratio may be quite abrupt as many choose to wait until the last minute due to the ever-changing media coverage of COVID numbers.
What can your CRM teach you about room preferences, most popular F&B, amenity purchases or ancillary service requests to help shape this promotion? What, if anything, can be observed about actions on your part that increased the L2B ratio to thereby help plan staffing or rate strategy as far ahead as possible? Perhaps you are finally reopening your spa, but which of your customers would actually care about this piece of news? Can your CRM data from recent months help you to develop more effective dynamic pricing of your rooms inventory?
Aside from giving you more information to craft the perfect fall package, another COVID-specific challenge where a CRM can be of assistance relates to the general satiety of eblasts, newsletters, webinars and all other forms of one-to-many marketing. With the death of physical media and the rise of the stay-at-home workforce, all of us - hoteliers and hotel customers - have now become inundated with these kinds of digital advertisements over the past six months, so much so that most of them have been rendered as ineffective white noise.
Putting yourself in a prospective guest's shoes, what if you received a short, personalized email from a hotel manager first acknowledging your recent stay and what you did while on property, then offering you a great package that's value-added with services based upon your specific purchasing history? In this manner, if you have rich guest profiles within your CRM, then you are enabling your managers to utilize one-to-one marketing in a world that is numb to blanket eblasts.
The final point to highlight concerns reputation management whereby a CRM that also folds in guests' social media handles can afford your property with a comprehensive perspective on any perceived errors or negative criticisms. Like everything else, COVID has altered guest behavior and many are now exceedingly sensitive to mistakes made by your teams.
Realistically, we all know that there's only so much you can 'gild a lily', meaning that if your hotel doesn't live up to expectations it will be incrementally harder to get guests to come back during a less desirable time of year. Thus, reputation management is first and foremost an end-to-end feedback loop to guide product improvements. The problem is that what past guests cite as the causes of their chagrin may not give the full picture as to the true culprits. But if you can forensically connect all the dots of the total customer journey via a CRM then you stand a far better at addressing the core of any errors.
Given all the previously mentioned factors affecting travel as well as several others such as the persisting lack of international flight availability, this autumn will prove to be quite problematic for hotels that aren't listening to what key drivers are actually motivating guests to book. You need all resources on hand to get those quick wins in the leisure segment that will save your property from dreadful occupancies during this upcoming low period and taking full advantage of your CRM is an important preliminary step.